Northern California Wine Making Region
Viewing the terrain and climate of the Northern California wine making region for the first time, the
resemblances to rural France are very striking, albeit on a considerably smaller scale. For example, the Napa
Valley is just thirty-five miles long and five miles wide, while Sonoma County embraces sixteen hundred square
miles along sixty miles of coastline with only a few hundred wineries located there. Furthest north is Mendocino
County with thirty wineries of its own, whose three and a half thousand square miles of cool climate helps produce
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Those wineries have had a difficult struggle over the last two hundred years. Since Russian settlers planted
vines in 1812, through the founding of the wine industry by Spanish Franciscans in 1823, up through Prohibition to
today, winemakers have made courageous attempts to produce wines that rival the best of France and Italy.
In the 1920s, there were two hundred and fifty six wineries, but Prohibition reduced that to less than fifty.
Fortunately, the region has recovered over the years and is now flourishing. In Sonoma County, approximately one
hundred and fifty thousand tons of grapes are produced by two hundred wineries, over half fewer than twenty years
old, on a little less than fifty thousand acres.
The temperate climate, with moderate winters and warm to hot summers is perfect for growing a wide variety of
native and imported wine grape species. The most common varieties are Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot
Noir, with a healthy sprinkling of Merlot and Zinfandel.
From those grapes, California wineries produced over five hundred million gallons of wine in 2004 at a retail
value of fifteen billion dollars, with the majority of that coming from Northern California wine making region. The
total US production was slightly less than six hundred and seventy million gallons. Estimates of the overall impact
of the California wine industry on the state's economy quote figures as high as forty five billion dollars.
As a tourist attraction, the Northern California wineries are second only to Disneyland and form part of a trade
that attracts almost fifteen million visitors per year. That should come as little surprise though when you
consider that the area hosts the majority of California's ninety seven thousand acres of Chardonnay and almost
seventy five thousand acres of Cabernet Sauvignon to regularly produce award winning wines.
Irrespective of whether your taste runs to the lower tannin, dark red Merlot with characteristics of black
currant, or the spicy Syrah with characteristics of sweet blackberry and plum or the cherry and violet Pinot Noir,
you will find something to suit from among California's many offerings.
Nevertheless, those fond of white need not feel left out where the buttery Chardonnay or the delicate Riesling
with hints of peaches and apricots compete favorably with those of France and Germany. Moreover, the California
Pinot Grigio, light and dry, or the sweet, fruity Chenin Blanc is as crisp as those from Italy or France are.
So if you are searching for a European experience in a California setting, the Northern California wine making
region has plenty of offerings that are guaranteed to delight you.